City people: could you pack up and move to the country, with all the quiet and space that comes with it?
Country people: Could you squeeze yourself into 400 square feet, dozens of stories above the commotion and din of the city?
I thought about these questions while spending two weeks in the beautiful countryside of Ireland, in a lovely house accessible only by a narrow, winding and unmarked one-lane road. It was a long way from my apartment in Toronto, and not just in terms of kilometres. This was the house of my wife’s endlessly hospitable cousin, where the family raises their own chickens, turkeys and ducks, along with having a sprawling vegetable garden — yielding tomatoes, onions, pumpkins, potatoes, squash and fennel — that provided much of what we ate.
We were woken up in the mornings either by rooster cries or the voices of the family’s two beautiful daughters, and for breakfast we ate eggs so fresh they still had downy feathers clinging to them. The closest village consisted of a post office, a church, a convenience store and three pubs where much of the discussion over pints of Guinness was about the weather, cattle, the weather, the state of the turf and the weather. Though out in the country, the house never felt isolated. Family, friends and neighbours were constantly dropping in for tea, a chat or an impromptu birthday party. Stars burned brightly at night, unencumbered by city lights.
Even as a shameless city person, our time in the country was so lovely I wondered if I could ever pack up and move somewhere like that. The city can be unrelenting in its pace and in its noise. And we don’t even live in the busiest, noisiest city — Toronto would seem like rural Ireland to someone from Tokyo.
But here’s the interesting thing: everyone there wanted to know about life in “the big city.” One of the girls we were staying with, aged 6, was fascinated with cityscapes at night, particularly New York. Her grandfather produced a tourist map of Toronto he had saved from his last visit and I showed him where we lived and where we worked in relation to the CN Tower, which still looms very large in people’s vision of the city. In a place where anywhere is a country drive away, the idea of walking out your door and being confronted by more restaurants, bars and museums than one could ever hope to visit must seem pretty foreign.
As enjoyable as our time there was, I was happy to get back to “the big city.” I was happy for Wi-Fi, for my favourite neighbourhood coffee shop and for playoff baseball on TV. I don’t know if I could permanently make the switch; my DNA has been altered too much.
I’m not the only one. Another relative in Ireland lived in an even more remote, beautifully dramatic spot, nestled among rolling, patchwork pastures dotted with grazing sheep and ringed by emerald mountains. Her grandmother had been raised in the very house where she now lived, and her family had lived on that plot of land for nearly 200 years. When I asked her if she’d ever consider moving, I already knew the answer. And looking around, I couldn’t blame her.
What’s your current stance on the city/country debate?